Commentary on:
French Decree of 30 August 1777, on the duration of privileges (1777)

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Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900)

Identifier: f_1777a


Commentary on the French Decree of 30 August 1777


Frédéric Rideau*

Faculty of Law, University of Poitiers, France


Please cite as:

Rideau, F. (2023) ‘Commentary on the French Decree of 30 August 1777', in Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer,


1. Full title

2. Abstract

3. Authors and the trade before 1777

4. The author’s “propriété de droit”…

5… secured by a redefined privilege

6. From 1777 to 1793 (and after)

7. References 



1. Full title

Decree of the King's Council of State, containing regulations on the duration of book trade privileges. 30 August 1777


 2. Abstract.

Like the 1774 Donaldson v. Beckett case in Great Britain, the French royal provisions of 30 August 1777, regarding the duration of exclusive privileges, constituted an essential date in the history of literary property. Such property had been claimed at least from the 1720s onwards, notably from the Parisian booksellers and their lawyers. However, the author’s preeminence remained theoretical, until some writers, along a few emblematic judicial cases, contested the bookseller’s corporative hegemony, starting by the symbolic wish to be able to sell their own productions. The decree thus seemed to confirm concretely this evolution, by securing an unprecedented perpetual right to authors, while simultaneously restricting its effects if they chose to transfer their work and privilege to a bookseller. Moreover, these rather convoluted provisions came at the price of a redefinition of the traditional conception of book trade privilege. Nevertheless, although criticized at the time, and despite contradictory interpretations, it appears, upon the principles it settled, that this ultimate legislation of the Ancien Régime can be intimately linked with the revolutionary laws to come.


3. Authors and the trade before 1777 

To explain and justify the last royal legislation on the book trade, Antoine-Louis Séguier, Avocat général (prosecutor) representing the King before the Paris Parliament, asserted that, as soon as the sixteenth century, “one began to feel the authors’ right of property”.[1] Even if this right was not formally settled in ancient regulations claimed the famous king’s lawyer, it had been presumed by the “laws” and the extensive durations secured to the owner of the “original manuscript”.[2] Of course, such affirmation deserves some caution, but in fact, the lawyer Aubry had already, in the years 1690, pushed forward the defence of his  clients, the Paris booksellers, on this juridical foundation. “Property” was then justified by the author’s “labour” as well as the booksellers’ “industry” – a premonitory distinction? – although the former protagonist of this collaborative publishing adventure was clearly emerging – or whose alleged rights were becoming more perceptible – (see f_1690s).[3] Louis d’Héricourt developed in this perspective this proprietary argumentation three decades later, in a landmark memorandum (f_1725b), focusing on the original author’s manuscript and work as the source of exclusivity. The peculiarity of the writer’s “labour” nevertheless gave him only a theoretical advantage, since the traditional corporative organization of the book trade made the exercise of the alleged property right essentially possible through publication with its most powerful members, after the full transmission of his manuscript at a fixed price.[4] But during the 1760s, the fight of Luneau de Boisjermain, who endeavoured to keep control of the sale of his literary productions, and whose own books had been seized in 1768 at his home by the Parisian booksellers, illustrated emblematically a growing “professionalization” of letters by a more active presence of authors within the trade.[5] Consequently, because of this “literary superiority” over trade “subalterns” and “valets”, to use Fenouillot de Falbaire’s sharp words, any writer, from these “sacred rights” of property, should be able to determine the conditions in which his book should be made public.[6] This ascendancy also denoted severe criticism of authors who relied persistently on patronage, for the inequality and consubstantial obedience it implied.[7] These views were of course not followed by all writers and among them, a hugely prolific one, Rétif de la Bretonne, in his Contr’avis aux gens de Lettres, who defended the legitimate place the booksellers had to keep on the market.[8]


Still, against this locked economic structure, it was now claimed that authors should be encouraged to be their own active and autonomous publishers and sellers if they wished to – “les laisser faire” explained d’Alembert –, or the trade would continue to prosper while even some of the greatest writers had to tolerate difficult financial situations.[9] Such aspiration did not concern solely the authors’ control over their patrimonial interests but their effective freedom within the trade, questioning therefore the “harmony of the society”, as Fenouillot de Falbaire put it again, this social balance being troubled by a “small community” that was not “essentially inherent to the political body.”[10] Diderot himself, when he advocated in 1763 the extension of a more liberal “tacit permissions system”, less compatible with the existing concentration of privileges, had probably in mind the same perspective.[11] Ultimately, this growing pre-eminence of authors also seemed to have had some echo in the judicial system. The dispute involving the dramatic author Crébillon, which ended before the King’s court in 1749 (see f_1749) has thus been interpreted as an implicit recognition of the author’s literary property, although the “La Fontaine case” was probably more conclusive.[12] Indeed, perhaps convinced by the lawyer Roussel for the La Fontaine’s family, who focused on a natural “right of inheritance” of his clients – or was it the pragmatic necessity to break a long-lasting monopoly on his œuvres ? – the king’s council ruled in 1761 for the granddaughters’ great fabulist against the Parisian corporation (see f_1761). The La Fontaine case constituted a worrying warning for the trade.


The reasons for this “emergence” of the author – or at least its legibility  – will not be speculated here.[13] Interestingly enough however, on the legislative side and at the same moment, another great and useful production of the mind, the invention, had not been discussed under the same terms, and the declaration protecting inventors in December 1762 simply vested, to promote a competitive trade, a very limited protection to these intellectual works through traditional privileges “en fait de commerce” (see f_1762). In the literary field, to recognise formally property rights grounded in the author’s labour without increasing the booksellers’ omnipotence on the literary market, promised to be a challenge, even an aporia. Nevertheless, the king chose in 1777 to endorse the principle of literary property, but without the practical consequences expected by the booksellers’ “small community”.


4. The author’s “propriété de droit”… 

The distinction explicitly formulated since the sixteenth century between two types of labour involved in the publication of a book was finally upheld in the preamble of the fifth decree (over six) “on the duration of privileges”. For a bookseller, the privilege was indeed approving his “industry” – as mentioned, the same term used by the lawyer Aubry himself decades ago –, which directly implied here, for the king, the “reimbursement of any advance and to indemnify him against the costs incurred.” For the author, his “labour” (“travail”), not his industry, had to be protected. The language used had been obviously carefully chosen, and ultimately carried great consequences as to the way the royal favour was granted, with a drastically reduced privilege duration for booksellers. Indeed, the king believed justified to modulate the period of protection from, simply, a perpetual one, to the author’s life (art. 5), or ten years minimum (art. 3). Because, still considering the distinction between “labour” and “industry”, a “more enduring” – the euphemism is remarkable – duration conceded for booksellers would allow them to take advantage of the full exercise and effects of “a rightful property” (“une propriété de droit”), that is, to paraphrase the preamble, to convert a favour (“une jouissance de grâce”) into a right. Concretely, the reduction of the king’s protection from a perpetual right to its limited duration occurred essentially when the privilege (therefore the work) was transferred by the author (art. 5).


From the conjunction of the preamble and article 5, despite convoluted formulations Séguier would have to clarify (see infra), was thus recognised a literary property which clearly originated from the author’s distinctive labour. Moreover, following Luneau de Boisjermain’s efforts to control the commercialisation of his productions, this right was extended, against the most essential corporatist principles, to the freedom, for an author, to sell his own work. A “natural” and symbolic prerogative that Malesherbes, while directing the book trade administration between 1750 and 1763 under Louis XV, had already supported in his memoranda on the Librairie.[14] Considering the political circumstances directly surrounding the young reign of Louis XVI from 1774, and the expanding penetration of the liberal ideas – natural property rights opposed to monopolies, “laissez faire & laisser passer” doctrines, etc – into the highest spheres of the royal entourage and his ministers – from Turgot, a “disciple” of Vincent de Gournay, to Malesherbes –, such unprecedented freedom, for authors, was eventually predictable.[15] What remained, at first glance, more surprising was that Louis d’Héricourt’s defence of literary property did not benefit technically to their usual, almost inevitable, transferees. Indeed, at a time when the complete suppression of the guild system had been – in vain – attempted by Turgot on the grounds of individual freedom, a property right with its full effects for the usual author’s transferee would have reinforced the wealth of the Parisian booksellers, against the “public advantage”.[16] The encouragement of “learning” – to use the Statute of Anne (uk_1710) terminology – and the spreading of the Enlightenment had indeed been strongly debated, and a more open market (for authorized books…), was a common goal in all European countries, probably as important as was a more liberal competition between inventors.[17] In fact, the lawyer Gaultier de Biauzat, for the provincial booksellers, against the principle of any literary property, had relied largely on the comparison with the privileges “en fait de commerce” reorganized in 1762 as the best means to satisfy the common good (see f_1776).


Yet, pursuing the latter, the “national law” (“le droit national”), as Antoine-Louis Séguier, for the king, would put it in 1779, had to be considered along the natural “propriété de droit” that had been “consecrated today”, an “incontestable” right in “the hand of the author”...[18] But this conciliation came at an unprecedented redefinition of the nature of the royal favour itself.


5… secured by a redefined privilege. 

Book trade privileges remained inevitable in 1777 for two separate – but associated – reasons. Firstly, they had been the main vector of censorship until 1789, since they bore, from the end of the sixteenth century, the function of a political “permission” of printing.[19] As one knows, “censorship” was theoretically protecting the catholic foundations of the king’s absolute sovereignty (see f_1547). The second reason related to the original justification of the very first privileges, exclusivity, and to the specificity of the object of the “propriété de droit” now secured by royal legislation. Despite difficulties to define its incorporeal nature, it was acknowledged that when the work is published, the public is “associated” to the author’s property, but, pointed out Séguier, not in the way any purchaser of the physical copy of the work might understand.[20] Like open land – to use a usual metaphor of the eighteenth century – with impossible fences to settle or to keep, “nothing is easier than counterfeiting…”.[21] Therefore, he insisted, the writer is “communicating his lights [ses lumières], without renouncing to the right of disseminating them”, that is conditionally, but still under the necessary protection of “the public power”, through the sovereign favour – “la sauvegarde…” – able to assure fully its enjoyment.[22] In other words, even if the book trade privilege itself did not constitute the source of the exclusivity, the intrinsic vulnerability of literary property meant that its exercise still required the king’s “tutelary” act. Such a conception implied of course a drastic evolution of the traditional function of book trade privileges, from a lex privata conceded by the king according to his will (see f_1515), to a definition that had been explicitly supported by Louis d’Héricourt (or even Aubry).[23]


Concretely, the decree crucially established that when a privilege is henceforth granted to an author, so long as the censorship requirements were satisfied, it had to be delivered (perpetually) by the royal authorities. Nevertheless, it was far more complicated to justify that such a favour, “founded in justice”, was to be limited by the single fact of a cession of his work by an author. It seemed that literary property was thus losing potentially one of its usual main attributes (perpetual exclusivity) upon the simple fact that a contractual relationship occurred. Séguier strove to clarify these royal choices and relied on this unusual malleability of the royal prerogative, as if a dual definition of privileges was now pragmatically adapted to the life of the book trade and to the “advantage” of the public. Indeed, in any case, behind the king’s sovereignty on the administration of his privileges, the right itself, its nature, is not affected, concluded the king’s prosecutor, underlining that the “restriction [the King] placed on the duration of the favour is not destructive of the property”: it is only “a modification of the favour”, a “protection” (“sauvegarde”), of justice for the author, and of liberality (“libéralité”) for the bookseller.[24]


Consecutively, moreover because such an issue was certainly not expected by the Parisian booksellers, the 1777 decree aroused critics as being juridically incoherent.[25] Still, a “propriété de droit” had been undoubtably upheld by the last book trade legislation of the Ancien Régime linking it, from this perspective, to the further legislation, despite the great political disruptions to come.


6. From 1777 to 1793 (and after) 

Beyond the legal introduction of property into the field of literary creation, the ambiguities of Seguier’s defence of the decree were undoubtedly evidence of the difficulties in setting the right balance between personal and “public property”. Augustin-Charles Renouard, not surprisingly because of his contestation of the very principle of literary property, later commented that it would have been easier for the royal administration to oppose explicitly these conflicting interests.[26] The same tensions indeed arose under similar terms during the Revolution. With this in mind, the transposition, in the literary field, of the December 1762 provisions for inventors – a limited copyright as an encouragement from the king – or the adoption in France of the Statute of Anne, as suggested by Panckoucke in March 1790, would have probably supported the perception of a more coherent system of exclusivity.[27] Moreover, even though a natural right of property was thus secured before (and after) the Revolution under the same justifications – the singularity of the author’s “labour” – Ancien Régime privileges and, after 1789, national law (“la loi”), were obviously not equivalent means, politically speaking, to reach this objective. In 1826, the members of the Commission de la propriété littéraire (f_1826), seeking an extension of the duration of the right, thus recalled that the association of literary property with the “word privilege” brought “misfortune” to the former during the Revolution, starting with the suppression of privileges in August 1789 which inaugurated a new phase of vulnerability for its protection.[28] Nevertheless, they recognized the importance of the original consecration of literary property in 1777, and the “wisdom” of the decree, which should remain for them a “point of comparison” since it “settled property”, although a property different than others regarding the conditions under which it was secured.[29] 


Maybe because of the inherent ambivalence of legislation at crossroads, this last royal decree has been unequivocally analysed by C. Hesse as a simple reaffirmation, by the Crown, of “the absolutist interpretation of royal law as an emanation of the king’s grace alone”, the author, this “privileged creature”, himself being reduced consequently, under and by these political structures, to “a creation of the absolutist police state”.[30] It has also been underlined recently that the “the natural rights of authors” formulated by Louis d’Héricourt had “crucially [not been] admitted as such in the arrêt of 1777.”[31] More generally, the 1793 Literary and Artistic property Act has been mainly isolated from this potential genealogy, being for example characterized as a “considerable progress”.[32] Yet, beyond immediate political contingencies, there still seemed that a more essential dynamic at work linked 1777 and 1793 under the name of property and what it conveyed. And despite the immediate contestations of the provisions settled by articles 3 and 5, notably by the Parisian booksellers who knew that a more competitive market was about to develop against their monopolies in the kingdom, the legislation was confirmed in July 1778 (f_1778a).[33] This arrêt du conseil notably clarified, in it its article 2, the situation of the authors who chose to keep their work and privileges, by preventing the printers and booksellers mandated for the task of printing and selling the books on their behalf from interpreting this type of contracts as implicit cessions of their property. Lastly, in 1786, the king would again retain the same legal qualification, “les droits de la propriété” (property rights) for musical publications, also emblematic of a coherent evolution, considering the long Ballard’s domination of the music publishing trade from the mid-16th century under traditional privileges (f_1552).


Finally, what also associates 1777 and the revolutionary legislation was of course the very broad question of the basic collective boundaries of individual rights, discussed by Sieyès in July 1789 when preparing the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (see f_1791). Nevertheless, by acknowledging a “propriété de droit” which stems from the writer’s specific “labour”, the decree of 1777 appeared to establish enduring ideas and principles, notably his freedom to be the seller, but also eventually the keeper, of his works, thus putting “the authors in their true position…”[34] 


7. References 

Chartier, R. and H.-J. Martin (eds), Histoire de l'édition française, Le livre triomphant, 1660-1830, 4 vols. (Paris : PROMODIS, 1983-1986) 

Dock M.-C., Étude sur le droit d’auteur (Paris : LGDJ, 1963)

Hesse, C., “Enlightenment Epistemology and the Laws of Authorship in Revolutionary France, 1777–1793” (1990) 30 Representations 

Pfister, L., “Author and Work in the French Print Privileges System: Some Milestones” in Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer and Lionel Bently (eds), Privilege and Property, Essays on the History of Copyright (Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers, 2010)

Scott K., Becoming Property : Art, Theory and Law in Early Modern France (Yales University Press, New Haven and London, 2018)



* My sincere thanks to Dr Elena Cooper for her precious editorial assistance on this commentary.

[1] A. L. Séguier in Procès-Verbal de ce qui s'est passé au Parlement touchant les six arrêts du conseil Du 30 août 1777, concernant la Librairie, avec les Comptes rendus à leur sujet in Laboulaye et Guiffrey, La propriété littéraire au XVIIIe siècle (Paris : Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1859), 575 (“On commençait à sentir le droit de propriété des auteurs…”). The most substantial part of these minutes is concerned by the parole of the king’s people (“les gens du roi”), under three successive speeches from Séguier before the Paris Parliament – the supreme court of justice of the kingdom but also holding the function of registering the legislation –, the 10, 27 and 31 of August (see 481-2). This large source, fully available at f_1779, is remarkable for the analysis of the six royal decrees on the book trade (and on literary property at the end of the Ancien Régime).

[2] Séguier, 585: “Toutes les lois ont supposé cette propriété, mais aucune de l’a consacrée; cependant vous avez vu que jusqu’à la fin du dernier règne on a accordé des continuations de privilège à ceux qui étaient propriétaires du manuscrit original de l’ouvrage imprimé.” And these durations were founded in “justice” (ibid.).

[3] This distinction can also be discussed from earlier perspectives, pertaining to the first book trade privileges granted in the beginning of the fifteenth century, sometimes to authors, but soon more extensively to printers and booksellers: see f_1507 and f_1515. Aubry, indeed, specified that: “Les sortes particulieres renferment tous les livres qui ont eté produits pour la premiere fois dans le Royaume par l'industrie particuliere d'un libraire ou par le travail d'un auteur qui lui cede son ouvrage et son droit, de quelque manière qu'ils en traitent ensemble.(Memorandum, f_1690s, 2)

[4] On this, see notably the first recorded privilege granted to an author, Eloy d’Amerval (f_1507), but also the Sieur d’Anville’s contract (f_1759). Pressures from the Parisian booksellers in their search for profitable privileges had been denounced in the Abbé Blondel’s memorandum (see 1725a).

[5] This seizure was declared illegal by the king’s justice in 1770, after an intense exchange of memoranda. During this confrontation, Linguet was Luneau de Boisjermain’s lawyer (see f_1770).

[6] Charles-Georges Fenouillot de Falbaire, author of plays (and in particular L’Honnête Criminel, ou l’Amour filial – 1767) in his Avis aux gens de Lettres (fully available in f_1770 – f_1769), probably written at/from the end of 1769 and published early in 1770 (see f_1770): 14 [4] (“supériorité littéraire”) and 10 (“gens subalternes” but also, same page, “valets”, “colporteurs”, and 12, “petits marchands”, and again, 29, “subalternes insolens” or “courtiers ingrats” – “ungrateful literary brokers” – etc…) ; 30: “… la simple présomption de quelques fautes possible ne doit pas faire dépouiller les Gens de Lettres des droits de la propriété, droits sacrés qui leur sont donnés par la nature, & sur lesquels est appuyée la base de toutes les sociétés.”

[7] Fenouillot de Falbaire, 37: “Mais c’est une faveur que le ciel fait à peu d’écrivains ; & pourquoi faut-il que les autres aient besoin d’être protégés ? Comme l’abeille qui se nourrit du miel qu’elle compose, pourquoi l’homme de Lettres ne trouve-t-il pas sa subsistance dans les ouvrages qu’il produit ?”

[8] E. Walter, 16. “Sur l’intelligentsia des Lumières”, in Dix-huitième Siècle, n°5, 1973. Problèmes actuels de la recherche, 197. On Rétif (or Restif) de la Bretonne, and his enormous mass of writings, see R. Lanselle, “Rétif de la Bretonne, ou la folie sous presse, (S’)écrire, (s’)inscrire, (s’)imprimer”, Essaim 2006/1 n°16, 66: 207 volumes, for 57000 printed pages…

[9] Ibid.: d’Alembert was indeed writing to Catherine II in November 1764: “Il faut traiter les gens de lettres comme des commerçants : les encourager, les protéger, et les laisser faire.” (“laisser faire, laisser passer”, a famous formula attributed to Vincent de Gournay, mentor of Turgot). Beaumarchais, for dramatic authors, would establish his “Bureau de législation dramatique” in 1777 (see also f_1791 and Le Chapelier’s report). As to the thematic of the economic distress some authors and their families were living in, it was a common one, which would be used soon by Lakanal in his famous report in 1793. In his Avis, Fenouillot de Falbaire mentioned La Bruyère, with his contract with the Booksellers Michelot (39) and Diderot, and what he earned from the Encyclopédie (43-5). Interestingly enough, the situation in England (therefore before Donaldson v. Becket) was also mentioned positively, with, it was claimed, the much more favorable situation of Hume, Robertson… (40).

[10] Fenouillot de Falbaire, 24 (“[l’]harmonie de la société”) ; 28 (“…une petite communauté marchande, qui assurément n’est pas essentiellement inhérente au corps politique…”).

[11] For that reason, these developments had been suppressed by Le Breton in the version presented by the Communauté des libraires et imprimeurs de Paris to M. de Sartine in 1764 (see f_1763 and our commentary).  

[12] See for example Marie-Claude Dock, who saw in this ruling as an “implicit recognition of literary property”, in Études sur le droit d’auteur, (Paris : LGDJ, 1963) 119.

[13] On the Foucaultian omnipresence – but which Foucault? –, “de rigueur” in theoretical copyright studies during the 1980s and 1990s (at least…), see M. Kretschmer, L. Bently and R. Deazley’s introduction (and ed.) of Privilege and Property, Essays on the History of Copyright (Cambridge: OpenBook Publishers, 2010), p. 15 (and n 42).  On the question of authorship from the end of the seventeenth century, see however Louis d’Héricourt’s memorandum (f_1725), and for ultimate developments, f_1902 on the development of moral rights through the Lecocq Court of Cassation decision.

[14] Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, Mémoires sur la librairie. Mémoire sur la liberté de la presse (Paris : Imprimerie Nationale, 1994), 161: “Ce sont les auteurs, qui, suivant le droit naturel, devraient tirer tout le profit de leurs ouvrages, en ayant la faculté de les vendre eux-mêmes [ . . . ] Ne doit-on pas regarder les ouvrages d’un auteur, qui sont les fruits de son génie, comme lui appartenant encore à plus juste titre, et comme le bien dont il serait le plus convenable qu’il eût la libre disposition?”

[15] With the accession of Louis XVI to the throne in 1774, Malesherbes indeed became part of his government, along with Turgot, until May 1776 (on Turgot’s liberal doctrine of “laisser faire”, see notably his famous Éloge de Vincent de Gournay, 1759). The ideas were also of course dominated by debates stimulated by the famous “physiocratic movement” and François Quesnay’s efforts, concerning land, to distinguish monopolies and legitimate property, and the consecutive necessary reorganization of the taxation system: property, for Quesnay, as a result of personal labour, as to be secured by any legitimate government: “Que la propriété des biens-fonds et des richesses mobilières soit assurée à ceux qui en sont les possesseurs légitimes ; CAR LA SÛRETÉ DE LA PROPRIÉTÉ EST LE FONDEMENT ESSENTIEL DE L’ORDRE ÉCONOMIQUE DE LA SOCIÉTÉ. Sans la certitude de la propriété, le territoire resterait inculte.” in Maximes Générales du Gouvenement économique d’un royaume agricole, et notes sur ces maximes (maxime IV), from 1758, in Œuvres économiques et philosophiques de F. Quesnay, Fondateur du système physiocratique…, ed. Auguste Oncken (Francfort & Paris, J. Baer & Cie & J. Peelman, 1888), 331. For a critic and synthesis of the physiocratic system, among a vast bibliography, see for example: Yves Charbit, “L’échec politique d’une théorie économique: la physiocratie”, in Population (Ined Ed.), 2002/6, vol. 57, 849-78.

[16] In February-March 1776, Turgot, then Contrôleur général des finances (minister of economy) supported an Édit “portant suppression des jurandes et communautés de commerce, arts et métiers” (Versailles, février 1776), with a famous natural rights argumentation: “Nous devons à tous nos sujets de leur assurer la jouissance pleine et entière de leurs droits; nous devons surtout cette protection à cette classe d’hommes qui, n’ayant de propriété que leur travail et leur industrie, ont d’autant plus le besoin et le droit d’employer dans toute leur étendue les seules ressources qu’ils aient pour subsister [ . . . ] Dieu en donnant à l’homme des besoins, en lui rendant nécessaire la ressource du travail, a fait, du droit de travailler, la propriété de tout homme ; et cette propriété est la première, la plus sacrée et la plus imprescriptible de toutes.” Although for censorship reasons, the Communauté des libraires et imprimeurs de Paris was one of the corporations which were not directly concerned by this attempt, this reform, anticipating the Décret d'Allarde and the loi Le Chapelier in 1791, had been one of the most emblematic ones of the end of the Ancien Régime. It leaded to Turgot’s resignation the following May.

[17] On this question of the Enlightenment diffusion to the Nation, see in particular R. Mortier, Clartés et Ombres du siècle des Lumières (Genène : Droz, 1969), with the positions of Voltaire, Diderot, with his Plan d’une Université pour le Gouvernement de Russie (84). Malesherbes, in the abovementioned memoranda (see n 14) was also convinced that, in this perspective, censorship should be more flexible.

[18] Séguier, 585: “Dans la main de l’auteur, elle est incontestable, elle n’est même pas contestée ; disons mieux, elle est reconnue, elle est consacré aujourd’hui, et l’auteur a droit de jouir de son ouvrage, lui et toute sa descendance, ses héritiers et ayants cause, tant qu’ils ne se sont point dessaisis du manuscrit, et qu’ils n’ont point cédé le privilège.” About this tension between this “droit national” and natural rights: “Elle est due, sans doute, à celui qui est fondé en même temps et sur le droit naturel et sur le droit national ; mais si le droit naturel milite en faveur de la propriété, l’avantage national exige qu’on facilite le commerce en détruisant les entraves dont il est plus ou moins embarrassé.”, 577). L. Pfister also quotes Miromesnil, the Keeper of the Seal, who, in a letter to the Académie française in 1778, wrote that it was “fair” for him to “consecrate in favour of men of letters a property on their intellectual production” in “Author and Work in the French Print Privileges System: Some Milestones”,  Ronan Deazley, Martin Kretschmer and Lionel Bently, ed., Privilege and Property, 134.

[19] The voluntary confusion between these two goals (political and economic) promoted in fact a concentration of privileges to the profit of the Parisian booksellers and a provincial “anaemia” in the trade (see f_1690s, and J. Quéniart, “L'anémie provinciale”, in Histoire de l'édition française, Le livre triomphant, 1660-1830, 4 vols., ed. by Roger Chartier and Henri-Jean Martin (Paris : PROMODIS, 1983-1986), 2 : 282-293).

[20] Séguier, 589: “L’auteur ne fait imprimer son ouvrage que pour le répandre et le donner au public. Dès ce moment le public est associé à cette propriété, chaque acquéreur devient propriétaire réel des copies qu’il a achetées.”

[21] Ibid.: “… ; et, comme rien n’est plus facile que la contrefaçon, l’auteur n’a donné son ouvrage que sous la sauvegarde de la puissance royale, qui lui a garanti l’exercice de sa propriété pendant la durée du privilège qu’elle lui a accordé.

[22] Ibid., 591: “Il ne s’en dessaisit point [de l’ouvrage]; il communique ses lumières sans renoncer au droit de les répandre; il a demandé un privilège pour assurer sa propriété, l’autorité a adopté sa demande, elle veille sur ses intérêts; il est sous la sauvegarde de la puissance publique…” (etc.). The idea of a light diffused by an author would also be used during after 1789, for example by François Hell, in his 1791 bill (see f_1791a – the “spiritual part” of the work, like the “rays of the sun”).

[23] It is interesting to recall that when Louis d’Héricourt was defending his conception of a book trade privilege as an “approbation authentique”, it was then received by the king as an attack on his sovereignty (see f_1725b).

[24] Séguier, 592: “Cette grâce est assurée à toujours dans la personne de l’auteur; elle n’est assurée que pour un temps certain dans la main du cessionnaire; c’est une modification de la grâce. Toutes les fois que le Roi accorde un privilège, il n’est pas question de la propriété en elle-même, il ne s’agit que de la manière d’assurer cette propriété. Le privilège en est le garant et la sauvegarde. Mais cette garantie, cette sauvegarde, peut durer plus ou moins, selon la volonté de celui qui s’oblige à la faire valoir. Encore une fois, le privilège est une grâce; elle est de justice pour l’auteur, et de libéralité pour le libraire.”

[25] See in particular Linguet’s critics in 1777 (f_1777b) and also the Abbot Pluquet’s letters (f_1778). In relation to contractual freedom, and for the author to transfer fully his property, see also Diderot, when he was claiming in his 1763 letter, that the “rights of the last owner [propriétaire] have been as sacred as the rights of the first.” For the provincial booksellers, and Gaultier de Biauzat, or for Condorcet, privileges had to remain the unique source of exclusivity in the kingdom (see respectively f_1776 and f_1776a).

[26] A.-C. Renouard, Traité des droits d'auteur dans la littérature, les sciences et les Beaux-Arts, 2 vols. (Paris: Jules Renouard & Cie, Libraires, 1838-1839), 1 :179, indeed focusing on the traditional technical effects of property: “S’il ne s’était agi que de démontrer par des motifs de droit, et dans l’intérêt général, la nécessité de ne donner aux privilèges qu’une durée temporaire, les argumens n’auraient certainement pas manqués. […] Mais les arrêts, tout en cherchant, par le fait, à limiter les privilèges, avaient eu le tort de reconnaître en principe, au profit des auteurs, un droit de propriété perpétuelle. Il y avait contradiction manifeste entre le principe que l’on concédait, et le soin que l’on mettait à en éviter les conséquences. C’était rendre la défense des arrêts insoutenables en bonne logique.

[27] See L. Pfister, 136 (about Panckoucke).

[28] Minutes of the 1825-1826 Commission (Commission de la propriété littéraire : Collection des Procès-Verbaux) (f_1826), 26: “Le mot de privilège, que, par une sage circonspection, le législateur de 1777 avait conservé pour désigner une véritable propriété, lui porta malheur…” They also recalled, that the king, only sovereign during the Ancien Régime, was the only one, as the “keeper” of all the rights, to be able to secure them – 23 –).

[29] Ibid., 19: “…un monument de sagesse et de bonne foi…” (mentioning the preamble) ; “On s’est cru obligé d’insister sur l’examen des motifs d’après lesquels l’arrêt du conseil de 1777 a été rédigé, d’abord parce qu’il est le seul qui ait fixé la propriété sous l’ancien régime, et que, dans tous les cas, il devrait toujours servir de point de départ et de comparaison…” (23).

[30] C. Hesse, “Enlightenment Epistemology and the Laws of Authorship in Revolutionary France, 1777–1793” (1990) 30 Representations, 113 (and with this “liberal bourgeois revolution”, the author, “from a privileged creature of the absolutist police state”, became “a servant of public enlightenment…” – 129 –). See also L. Pfister, 133, who directly criticized this position.

[31] K. Scott, Becoming Property : Art, Theory and Law in Early Modern France (Yales University Press, New Haven and London, 2018), 281, about Lakanal’s preamble in 1793, and the “so-called ‘Act of the Rights of Genius’” – see f_1793 – as “the realisation of the natural rights of authors, first articulated by Louis d’Héricourt in 1725, reiterated by Diderot and the Paris book guild in 1763-4 and crucially not admitted as such in the arrêt of 1777.” The “as such” being rather enigmatic however…

[32] M.-C. Dock, 157, who recognised however that literary property was involved in 1777 (see our commentary in f_1793). J-M. Ducomte, for example, went further, claiming that the “declaration of 1777” did not speak “clearly” of property in “La Révolution Française et la propriété littéraire et artistique”, G. Koubi (ed) Propriété et Révolution (Paris : CNRS Eds, 1990) 120.

[33] See Arrêt du Conseil du 30 juillet 1778 (f_1778a) : “…sans que les traités ou conventions qu’il fera pour imprimer ou débiter une édition de son ouvrage puissant être réputés cession de son privilège.” On the consequences of this legislation, that is a more competitive market, in fact with similarities with what happened after Donaldson v. Becket (1774), see notably H.-J. Martin, Le livre français sous l'Ancien Régime, (Paris : PROMODIS, 1987), but more generally Histoire de l'édition française, in particular Le livre triomphant, 1660-1830 (vol. 2), 4 vols., ed. by Roger Chartier and Henri-Jean Martin, (Paris : PROMODIS, 1983-1986).

[34] Minutes of the 1825-1826 Commission, 23, and notably to be free from any “constraints” imposed by a “foreign interest” (“…toute entrave mise par un intérêt étranger…”).

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